Manufacturing capability for 5G in danger

Criticism of the plan to let the Chinese telecoms company Huawei provide a large part of the nation’s 5G network has largely concentrated on the security implications. These will erode with time as software protections are devised by GCHQ at Cheltenham and elsewhere in the security services.

But the loss of opportunity to create a new electronics manufacturing capability for consumer and military applications would be an even greater threat to our survival as a modern industrial power. Professor Bush’s concern over this aspect of the forthcoming 5G decisions prompted the following letter in the Daily Telegraph on 29th January.

5G networks are not just about communications. They are planned to form the basis of the so-called “internet of things” to which a vast range of consumer goods and commercial products as well as enabling military hardware will be connected.

The provider of the network will specify the way these items will be connected, which will in turn have a profound effect on their actual design. Since China is already the largest source of electrically powered consumer goods in the UK, China’s manufacturing firms will form a myriad of partnerships with Huawei to achieve a virtual monopoly of the UK and other Western electrical goods markets if allowed to.

The way for Britain to work with Huawei on 5G is through a formal joint venture with a wholly-owned British company set up for the purpose by the Government.  Huawei would provide access to their present design and manufacture technology in return for its access to the UK market. The exploitation of any technology generated by the joint venture would be shared too. A joint venture like this would protect British security from the inside, vastly enhance British industrial capability, and be a real test of Huawei’s sincerity.

This letter was written in full knowledge that the Swedish company EriksonNote 1 is also (quietly) bidding for a share of the new UK 5G network. But it is entirely typical that so far, the only role the Business Innovation & Science Department foresees for Government is choosing between foreign suppliers of both the hardware and software. Yet if we don’t make 5G related ‘things’, we will simply drop out of the huge new 5G related markets.

As it is, UK electronics and telecommunications components are 94% supplied (2016 figures) by foreign companies. Passing up the 5G market will make that figure 100% in a few years’ time. The university graduates of our electronics and computation departments will all work for foreign companies at home and abroad.


Note 1:  Erikson’s had a full-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph on 30th January saying they have already supplied some 5G to BT.

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